“My Overkill” (season 2, episode 1; originally aired 09/26/2002)
“Ghosts appear and fade away.”
“My Overkill” opens with an extended sequence that NBC apparently hated. As J.D.’s memory refreshes us regarding the “Jordan outs everyone’s dirty laundry” cliffhanger that brought the first season to a close, he begins his day hoping that it was all a dream. Instead, Colin Hay shows up as the musical manifestation of the lingering effects of Jordan’s bombshells, a troublesome troubadour whose performance of “Overkill” soundtracks our entrance into a space where Scrubs’ central relationships are in shambles.
According to Bill Lawrence on the episode’s commentary track, the sequence was too “artsy” for NBC, but that strikes me as a strange complaint. While there is certainly something cheeky about having Hay transition from man on the street to a corpse in the morgue over the course of the opening, the actual intent of the sequence is as straightforward as it comes. In a brief and memorable sequence, Scrubs clearly outlines the state of affairs that will begin its second season with a stylistic flair that also suggests some well-earned confidence after a strong first year.
“My Overkill” is not interested in telling a subtle story in the least. The case of the week, if we can reduce the show to its medical show tropes, is an on-the-nose thematic beat that eventually lands on the episode’s lesson. As J.D. works to discover why the patient with nothing wrong with him is still sick, the show explores why it is that a few new pieces of information could so undermine the social fabric of Sacred Heart. Eventually, J.D. learns that the best way to treat a patient suffering from “drug fever” is not to treat him at all, and the show posits that all you need to do in order to return to the status quo after an upheaval is to wait for the ghosts to fade away.
You could argue that it’s something of a bait and switch: Given how “My Last Day” made such a big deal out of these recurring storylines, to effectively throw them out is a left turn which makes the entire situation seem like a red herring. However, rather than a purposeful attempt to trick the audience, I read it more as an honest appraisal of what the show does well. It’s as if Lawrence and the writers took a step back from the cliffhangers, assessed how each one was supposed to function, and then judiciously threw out what wasn’t working and transitioned the rest into a direction for the second season. J.D. and Elliot’s sexual tension remains an undercurrent that doesn’t dominate their relationship, Turk and Carla’s relationship is strengthened through their weathering of another conflict, J.D.’s relationship with Dr. Cox eventually heals, and Dr. Cox’s interest in Carla is entirely—and justifiably—overwritten by his renewed interest in Jordan.
“My Overkill” doesn’t actually do much with these storylines, but it has a lot of fun exploring them. NBC also apparently had some issues with the homoerotic tension in the episode, but this is a really strong example of how the Turk and J.D. bromance can be effortlessly charming. By transposing the characters into some traditional sitcom bedroom banter, the show gets both the basic function of those sequences (giving J.D. and Turk a chance to talk through their respective situations with Dr. Cox and Carla) and a sharp and funny inversion. There’s something girlish about their bedtime chatter, but it never stops being an effective way of having the characters work through their problems. Yes, it’s funny to see the camera pan back to reveal J.D. is in bed with Turk, but the scenes also work to sort through the complicated situations being transitioned through in the episode.
There were a few voices in the comments for my first-season reviews that suggested I have a tendency to suck the fun out of Scrubs by focusing so much on more structural elements, and that’s perhaps a fair criticism. However, I think we all know whether or not we consider Scrubs a funny show, and exploring the jokes again feels like a limiting exercise when it comes to revisiting the series. The question that interests me is what Scrubs was accomplishing on a level beyond making us laugh, and how episodes like “My Overkill” effortlessly transition from a potentially problematic finale into a rock solid setup for a second season. That it was funny on top of that is perhaps what makes Scrubs so memorable, but how the show made that structural move work is ultimately more important to the season as a whole.
“My Nightingale” (season 2, episode 2; originally aired 10/03/2002)
As noted, “My Overkill” is upfront about the amount of narrative “work” the episode had to accomplish, which means that we don’t get a particularly clear view of what the season will be dealing with. By comparison, “My Nightingale” gets to settle back into a familiar rhythm and begin considering just what the second season is going to look like.
In truth, it ends up looking a fair bit like “My Overkill,” complete with The Blanks mirroring Colin Hay’s involvement by providing a “live” soundtrack to multiple sequences . Of course, this is picking up on something the show introduced back in “My Hero,” so it’s not exactly a new idea for the second season. However, its return here suggests a confidence in the offbeat vibe of the series, quickly establishing that The Blanks are a part of a larger universe that we’re going to be seeing more of as the season goes on. The same could be said for The Todd’s banana hammock in “My Overkill,” for that matter—we’ve seen The Todd before, but we haven’t seen quite that much of him (literally). Here, The Blanks feel like they get more time for their songs, demonstrating how the writers are willing to indulge in a bit more of what helped distinguish the show in its first season.
It’s a familiar mode for a sitcom to operate in. Recent success stories like Arrested Development, 30 Rock, and Community have all delivered second seasons that dialed up what was already working rather than dramatically reinventing the wheel, and you can see that happening with Scrubs. There are a few attempts to push things further, like the broadness of Braff’s pratfall in “My Overkill” or his appearance in Carla’s underwear in a fantasy in “My Nightingale,” but this is largely a fine-tuned extension of where the show settled in toward the end of the first season.
As a result, there isn’t anything dramatically new about the central medical storyline as J.D., Turk, and Elliot deal with a night of being in charge. However, it’s a nice storyline to establish how their new role as residents gives them more responsibility, playing out a slight expansion of earlier intern storylines. Like all hospital shows, the career tracks offer a built-in point of advancement, but the show also repeats the same basic patterns: You enter into a new position, and then you balance your expectations for that position with the realities of that position. Ultimately, as one would expect, our central doctors all (with Carla’s help) learn to negotiate this new authority and, as if their names were all Charles, take charge. It’s a variation on what the show has done in the past, but it’s an effective one.
However, “My Nightingale” gets to push one of its preexisting relationships into a new stage in its other storyline, as Perry and Jordan move one step closer to an actual relationship. Building on the themes of the première, this isn’t something that happens suddenly, a grand moment where the characters start to see one another differently. Instead, it’s something that gradually developed off-screen, only truly problematic when Carla points it out to Perry and forces him to evaluate his true feelings. His decision to confide in Carla results in some nice convergence with the night-shift storyline, particularly the “Duck!” sequence, and the episode is smart to avoid immediately transitioning into the relationship once Perry tells Jordan how he really feels. Sure, Perry’s failed attempt to swallow his pride and introduce Dr. Kelso wasn’t exactly a thrilling climax, but the struggle is important for this relationship. While Turk and Elliot are part of a “Will They-Won’t They” situation, Cox and Jordan are more of a give-and-take relationship with a history long enough that a complicated transition period is both logical and effective.
There’s some subtle dramatic nuance to Jordan and Perry’s storyline, and there was also something about the sunrise that brought the night shift to a close (set to the tune of the Charles In Charge theme) that really struck me. It’s partly the idea of Carla taking the night shift to help her friends, but there’s also a general pleasure in seeing this gang back together. After a few weeks off, the start of Scrubs’ second season is a welcome point of return, and one could imagine that it would be much the same after a longer layoff back in 2002.
- “My Overkill” marks the introduction of the extended opening sequence, a wonderful idea in theory but problematic both for its length (cutting into the time for the episode itself) and because something about the color just seems off to me. I feel bad for Neil Flynn not getting to be in the original credits, don’t get me wrong, but I was glad the show defaulted back to the original sequence with time. (I’m curious, though, if it airs with these episodes in syndication).
- Speaking of Flynn, a couple of pretty typical Janitor runners here. I liked both, generally speaking, but we’re not yet at the stage where he becomes a more prominent part of the ensemble. Still, you can’t go wrong with a squirt bottle to the crotch gag.
- Bill Lawrence was kind enough to mention these reviews in his interview with The A.V. Club’s own Ryan McGee, and continued his lament over the sound effects that proliferated within the first season (and which remain to some extent here). However, I have to be honest and say that they don’t really bug me that much. Sure, I’m glad the show evolved beyond them, and I don’t think the show needed them, but I definitely don’t think the sound effects make the first season unwatchable.
- “I’m sorry, sport — I was thinking about soup.” [I don’t know why Dr. Kelso’s food-related lines crack me up so much, but they do.]
- Ted’s Band gets most of the time here, but Ted (now credited as Ted, as not “lawyer”) gets some great lines as well: For instance, “No, no, no — that was lame. We do primetime now.” and “Your shuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuhs could be louder. [Turns to others] You were fine.”
Next week: The thrill of case studies and the perils of big mouths.